Tuesday, August 20, 2013
CREDD are the new PLEX
So Wildstar postponed their release to 2014 and announced a business model in which monthly subscriptions are called CREDD and can be bought and sold in game. Gazimoff of Mana Obscura has details. And I would like to discuss the implications of that on the game economy.
Why do PLEX work in EVE Online? They work because some activities in EVE consume ISK (e.g. PvP), while other activities produce ISK (e.g. mining or trading). And we know that different players have different interests in a MMORPG, whether you call them Bartle types or something else. If there was no system of PLEX trading, the kind of people who like to make money in virtual games would end up with a huge surplus of virtual currency. Which is pretty much what happened in World of Warcraft, where even with my moderate interest in making gold I ended up with far more gold than I could spend, and Blizzard had to raise the gold cap because too many people were hitting it. But then adding PLEX to WoW wouldn't work either, because there aren't sufficient gold-consuming activities in the game to have a steady stream of buyers.
And that is what makes me worry a bit about the idea of CREDD: Who is going to buy CREDD for real money and sell them for virtual gold? What exactly will they spend that virtual gold on? And if for certain activities a lot of virtual gold is needed, how will you get it if you don't spend real money on CREDDs?
In EVE Online there have been various calculations of how much play time it takes to earn as many ISK in game as you get for selling one PLEX. One thing which is for certain is that this time depends on how new you are to the game. I've seen estimates between 2 hours of mining for 1 PLEX to 60 hours of mining for 1 PLEX, and if these numbers aren't just made up, the difference can probably be explained by what kind of ship and skills you have, with the new player being at the 60 hours mark, and the multiple-year veteran specialized in mining near the 2 hours mark. I've also seen several estimations of an average, around 15 hours of mining for a PLEX. Whatever the actual number is, different people value their time and their money in different ways, and some people would rather mine 15 hours, while others would rather spend $17.50 for a PLEX to get to the same result. The ISK vs. PLEX exchange rate is in reality a time vs. money exchange rate, so when CCP makes it easier to earn ISK in game, the ISK per PLEX rate goes up.
Whether this approximately $1 for 1 hour of "virtual work" exchange rate works for Wildstar will depend on how much use the virtual currency of Wildstar is in game. Will you be able to buy best-in-slot epics with that virtual currency? Will your favorite activity, e.g. raiding, have a high cost of consumables? Will housing cost a virtual fortune in purchase and maintenance? If the CREDD market is to work, then somewhere in the game there has to be a huge money sink.
People endlessly discuss the fairness of different business models. Is it fair that people who play less per month pay the same subscription as people who play a lot? Is it fair that people who have a lot of money can "pay to win" in games where essential items are attainable via cash? If the PLEX / CREDD business model becomes more prevalent, there will be a new question: Is it fair that certain Bartle types pay more to play than other Bartle types? If you naturally enjoy activities in a game which produce a virtual currency surplus, why would it be fair for you to be able to play for free, while somebody else is essentially paying a double subscription, one for him to play himself, and one for you to provide him the virtual currency?